The Moon Pinnace

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

In The Moon Pinnace, Thomas Williams, who was a cowinner of the National Book Award for his novel The Hair of Harold Roux (1975), depicts the complexities of young adulthood through the experiences of Doris (Dory) Perkins and John Hearne, residents of Leah, a small town in New Hampshire, whose confrontations with love, sex, identity, family, and social responsibility are at the heart of the novel. At the same time, through their experiences, Williams re-creates the conflicts and the high promise of American life in the immediate postwar years. The external events of the summer of 1948 match in intensity the internal growth and change in the novel’s principal characters. The Moon Pinnace is a moving tale of exploration and discovery, a love story that portrays the conflict between passionate surrender and commitment. Its strength lies in the interplay of technique, imagery, and character development, enhancing the intensity of the plot and demonstrating the novel’s major theme, the compelling force of love.

The compelling transformation into adulthood is most vividly and immediately apparent in Dory’s changing circumstances. Once “little Dory Perkins,” whose backyard faces the back of John Hearne’s house, Dory is now the object of John’s growing interest and attraction. Confused and apprehensive, she is powerless to stop the flood of new emotions that overcome her and lead her to express her love for this man whom, it seems, she has always loved and admired.

For John, Dory’s emergence into womanhood is perceived in its physical manifestation. Watching her from his window, he realizes that she is “so neat and sturdy and slender, so right to him” that she matches his idealized form “for the body of a girl.”

Dory, however, sees herself as a plain girl with ordinary brown hair; while her physical form is not interesting to her, she is aware that, internally, she is special. John’s and Dory’s conflicting images intimate a lesson they soon will learn: the line between appearance and reality, the known and the unknown, the familiar and the strange, the sane and the insane, is not always easily distinguishable or understood.

Within the context of their new relationship, John and Dory explore unknown territory. For Dory, reality must somehow be redefined. Lying next to John, she perceives, is “this girl, strange because she has always been something other than what she was now.” Dory, who is valedictorian at her high school graduation, is sensible, methodical, responsible, predictable. Yet, her passion for John and the urgency of sexual awakening lead to feelings and actions beyond her control. Risking pregnancy, John and Dory make love, the consequences of which Dory views, simply, as part of destiny and unaccountable: “Warnings had no force against this new wholeness.”

John’s behavior, at first physically motivated, is now indicative of the new direction his life will take. A college student and veteran, his intensity and introspection result in his decision to reject the influences of home, family, and childhood and to take matters into his own hands. When his plans to use a GI Bill check for a cross-country motorcycle trip to Southern California (where his natural father lives) become complicated by Dory’s possible pregnancy, John is able to put the allure of continued freedom in perspective with a promise to return to Leah and marry Dory.

Changed completely by the intensity of their short-lived liaison, Dory and John prepare to greet a summer apart from each other, a summer of expansion, change, and a new awareness of life. Dory learns that she is not pregnant and continues with her plans to manage Cascom Manor, a summer resort owned by a European princess whose guests include members of the German intelligentsia. John will embark on a journey to locate his father, Sylvan Hearne, an attempt to reconcile the past with the present. Their future together is determined by the summer’s events.

As John and Dory part for the summer, their experiences are revealed in alternating chapters. The physical separation of the lovers is accentuated, as it were, in the physical separation of their adventures, recounted in distinct sections. By contrast, the chapters at the beginning and end of the novel, in which the principal characters are united, flow uninterruptedly. As...

(The entire section is 1798 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 9)

Best Sellers. XLVI, October, 1986, p. 253.

Booklist. LXXXII, August, 1986, p. 1664.

Chicago Tribune. July 27, 1986, XIV, p. 39.

Kirkus Reviews. LIV, June 1, 1986, p. 820.

Library Journal. CXI, August, 1986, p. 173.

The New York Times Book Review. XCI, August 17, 1986, p. 8.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXIX, May 30, 1986, p. 53.

Washington Post Book World. XVI, July 6, 1986, p. 1.